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Meet the lawyer

Clíodhna Kelleher

Clíodhna Kelleher

University: University College Dublin
Degree: BCL (Law with Philosophy)
Year of call: 2020
Position: Barrister

What attracted you to a career in law?

I’ve always liked thinking about how arguments work. I enjoy unpicking a complicated idea and working out its weaknesses and what the best response  to it may be. For that reason,  I studied philosophy and law together for my undergraduate degree. A career in law also exposes you to all kinds of interesting ideas and fields that you’d never encounter otherwise because to make effective arguments about a topic, you need to really understand it – whether that’s how local authorities allocate housing, how odds are calculated for football betting or how plants are genetically engineered so they don’t die when you apply poison to them. I like learning, so a career in law was attractive for that reason.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I’d had experience working at a non-governmental organisation in a legal/policy role, as a paralegal, a university tutor, a debate coach and in various retail jobs. I think working in retail or service teaches you things that are vital for a career at the Bar, including stamina, resilience, patience and the ability to act professionally even when you’re under enormous pressure. Work experience in general is important because it can be difficult to show that you have the wide variety of skills that the Bar demands without it. However, it’s significantly more important to analyse your work experience and be able to articulate what skills those jobs taught you. Equally important, is being able to demonstrate why and how those skills are important for the Bar, rather than simply writing a list of jobs you’ve done.

What was the most difficult part of the recruitment process/application for you?

The recruitment process for barristers is really tough, even when chambers are doing their best to make it slightly less daunting. There’ll be entire days where all you receive are rejections or news that your peers have secured an interview at this or that set and you haven’t received anything, which can be really dispiriting. All you can do is brush yourself off and remember that there’s no particular magic in the sequence of acceptances and rejections – the fact that you get three rejections in a single afternoon doesn’t make you a bad candidate, even if it feels that way.

What’s the biggest lesson you learnt as a pupil?

Sometimes there’s no clear answer to the question you’ve been asked and that’s ok. Often questions end up on a barrister’s desk precisely because they’re complicated and no one has a satisfactory answer to them.

What do you wish you’d known about being a pupil before you started that you now do?

It’s a very tiring year, intellectually, physically and emotionally. The elements of your personal routine that you let slip first are often the parts you consider optional. As such, you must be careful about what you treat as optional because they’re  the parts of your routine that probably keep you happy – for example, making time to go for a run, seeing friends or reading for pleasure instead of for work. Those activities shouldn’t be optional!

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I’m a public and competition lawyer, so my typical day varies quite a lot depending on what I’m working on. I might be reading a decision that a client wants to challenge and researching how the courts have treated similar challenges in the past, or reviewing a witness statement and thinking about how to cross-examine that witness. I might also be drafting advice or I could be in court (or, more realistically, a mixture of those things). There’s no set list of tasks and every day is different.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career as a barrister and why?

The job gives you an incredible amount of freedom. Ultimately, you’re responsible for making sure your work is completed and finished to a high standard, but the job naturally gives you a lot of flexibility in how you achieve that – for example, when you work, where you work and what you work on. That’s a huge attraction of the Bar.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful barrister?

There are lots of different skills required to be a successful barrister; however, the minimum for my practice includes the ability to think things through logically, pragmatism, an appreciation that people (including other lawyers) have complex motivations and that it’s useful to see things from others’ perspectives, and a sense of humour.

What is the wider culture like at chambers?

Chambers is a really friendly place and there’s a real sense of camaraderie here. I came here for a mini-pupillage between interviews and left very certain that if I received an offer, I’d accept it.  I could really see myself doing and enjoying the work at Monckton Chambers because everyone I met was so interesting, clever and kind. I also appreciate how international chambers’ outlook is. I’m not British, and I don’t have any British qualifications (except my Bar training), so I expected a bit of a culture shock when I decided to pursue a career at the London Bar, but chambers has such a mix of nationalities and international calls that I felt immediately at home.

What’s been the highlight of the last month at the chambers?

Walking through Gray’s Inn in the sun with other juniors having bought lunch from  Leather Lane Market.

What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since being called to the Bar?

It’s hard to say, but probably acting for the Independent Monitoring Authority in its successful challenge of the UK design of the EU Settlement Scheme. It was a brilliant case in a brand-new area of law, which impacted a lot of people, so I was proud to be part of it.

What’s your desert island disc?

Dire Straits Making Movies. Although every year my Spotify Wrapped shatters my belief that I have good taste in music.